Um, Shouldn't You Have Asked Me These Questions Before I Got on the Plane?
I was out of town yesterday, in Los Angeles. Left Tuesday night, came back Wednesday night. Very uneventful. Left the hotel room just long enough to do an interview. Arrived yesterday on the 9:10, a very full flight. Slept, drank a Dr Pepper, re-read Moneyball; landed just as I got to the part about how players love playing for Ron Washington, who, under Billy Beane, was the Oakland A's first base coach. So far, so thrilling.
So. We landed at Terminal D. I was near the back and among the last to deplane. As I walked down the glass-lined corridor to the terminal, I noticed a handful of folks loitering around the mouth of the ramp -- men and women clad in khakis and short-sleeved knits that came in various shades of breige. They looked like they were waiting to meet and greet passengers, like in the old days -- before the fall of 2001, when you could get through security without a boarding pass and greet a returning family member with a hug, a kiss or divorce papers. Thought that odd, and kept walking, thinking about how fun it must be to play for Ron Washing ...
"Excuse me, sir, do you mind coming with me for a moment?"
A gentleman, perhaps a foot shorter than me, had stepped in my way, blocking me from leaving. He'd come out of nowhere, from a small hallway near the jet bridge exit. He was dressed like the others, like a guy behind the counter at a muni golf course's pro shop. He also looked a little like the guy who plays Det. Esposito on Castle. (Aw, leave me alone.)
At the end of the lanyard around his neck was his I.D. Said: "U.S. Customs." He flashed a badge.
"This will only take a moment."
He asked to see my I.D.
"Coming home, are we?"
Fuck, I hope so.
"Um, yes," I said. But it didn't sound like me. It sounded like my sister. If I had one. That's what she would have sounded like.
"And how long were you in Los Angeles?"
I tried to ask: What's this all about? He cut me off and repeated his question.
"Short trip," he said, in a tone of voice that suggested it was all very ... suspicious. But, really, for all I know, that's just the way he talks. Like, maybe he also thought my voice is always this high. Like Tiny Tim high. The squinting, though, was unnecessary. I also wondered if he could tell I was beginning to vibrate.
"Business or pleasure?"
I kept expecting him to put his hand on my arm and ask me to come with him. At this point I began wishing I hadn't spent so many years watching so many movies. I also tried to calculate how long I could hold my breath, should it come to that.
"What were you doing there?"
I mean, really. At some point I realized I was no longer nervous (no reason to be, but that's the way random interrogations go) and was just a little ... peeved. My dad was outside, waiting to give me a ride home. I wanted to get home. I'd slept maybe two hours in the past 36. I'd done nothing wrong. It's the deep, rich weekend summer tan, isn't it, officer? You're suspicious.
I told him I was there working, doing an interview. "I'm a journalist."
"Unh-hunh. Did anyone give you anything to hold before you got on the plane or while you were in transit?"
Well, the cab driver did give me my receipt. I knew I shouldn't have taken it. Damn thing was covered in ink. And he was from Moscow too! Told me he used to be an engineer, but now all he could do in U.S.A. was drive cab. Clearly, the man was a spy. They have been tailing me since L.A. I am the Will Smith character in a Tony Scott movie.
"Um, noooo ..."
I looked around and noticed the guy who'd been sitting next to me was also being questioned. You gotta be kidding me. The guy who'd slept the whole way? Who'd been listening to Al Green on his iPod? (Yeah, I look at shit like that.) Who woke up long enough to read some sex workout article in Men's Health? Two, three other passengers had also been stopped. Enough already.
I asked again: What's this all about?
Finally, he said: "We're just doing advance security. You know, the anniversary of September 11?"
Yeah. And ...?
"You answered all my questions in a normal tone. If not ..."
He didn't say anything else. He clearly liked the dramatic weight of those ellipses. He handed me back my I.D. He said I could go.
"Have a nice evening."